Best Washington Wines

Elaine Sutton
• Tuesday, 19 January, 2021
• 9 min read

With their 2017 vintage, production director Rick Small and winemaker Kevin Mott have added to that legacy with a brilliant Chard sourced from their usual two sites: Cello Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, and their own Woodward Canyon estate vineyard in the Wall Wall Valley. Not so for winemaker Michael Savage, whose Cello Chard is a fine value, offering nervy acidity and a dry flavor profile that combines lemon curd, mineral and subtle spice notes.

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(Source: seattlemet.com)


Whether the wine’s insistent generality comes from those rocks or is inherent to the grapes seems not to matter once it’s in the glass. Pink debuted with the 2015 vintage, and in four short years has captured the imagination of Satellites and become one of the fuzziest roses released each spring.

The fruit purity is exceptional here (strawberries and raspberries abound), and the texture is seamless and polished. Vintners 2015 Rhone Blend Brushed Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $40 Winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen splits his time between W.T.

Here he has crafted a blend of about one-third each of Grenade, Sarah and Mourned, all from a single hillside of Brushed Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. This beautifully balances elements both fruity (blackberry) and savory (smoky bacon, briny olive), all on a supple, easy-drinking frame.

Fermented with 50% whole clusters (stems and all) and then aged in a mix of large puncheons and small barrels, this wine revels in the funky, savory side of Sarah, with meaty smoked sausages and brackish seaweed complementing a core of blueberry fruit. It’s a pan- Washington Sarah, featuring seven different vineyards across five of Washington’s Ava, and it features a core of marionberry fruit lifted by floral top notes and complicated by savory threads of bacon fat and sanguine generality.

Vintners 2015 Gorgeous Sarah, Destiny Ridge Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, $30 The blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon was aged entirely in new French oak, and it offers an appealing nose combining plummy fruit with dusty earth notes, mocha and rosemary.

washington wines seattle
(Source: www.seattlemet.com)

Dark fruits (plums, huckleberries) commingle with high-cacao chocolate in this delightful truffle of a wine. This Merlot includes 13% Cabernet Franc, and all the grapes come from Stillwater Creek Vineyard.

Aged in French oak (60% new) for just shy of two years, this wine displays a pair of the characteristics that make Washington Merlot so compelling: complexity (in the form of earth and tomato-paste savory notes overlaying a core of cherry fruit) and structure (in the form of toothsome finishing tannins). The BEST OTHER RED BLENDS Underground Wine Project 2015 Idle Hands Red Mountain, $30 Trey Busch and Mark McNally’s Underground Wine Project takes home a second prize this year (their Mr.

That new American oak adds appealing notes of vanilla bean and cocoa powder to a wine bursting with cherry and raspberry richness. Classic Cabernet notes of crème de cassis and cedar coexist with subtleties of beetroot and rhubarb, all on a supple, polished frame.

BEST SPLURGE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Canvasback (by Duck horn) 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain, $40 In 2013, Napa Valley stalwart Duck horn purchased a 20-acre parcel of land on Red Mountain and launched Canvasback, its first foray into Washington state. Industry veteran Brian Ruin is the local winemaker for Canvasback, and this is his first Cab that includes a portion of fruit from the estate vineyard, called Long winds.

In total, this wine includes 13 Red Mountain vineyards, so it is a fine representative of the AVA as a whole, offering chewy, black-tea-flavored tannins aplenty as structural underpinnings for a wine bursting with black currant fruit and rose petal nuance. BEST SPECIAL-OCCASION CABERNET SAUVIGNON Passing Time 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills, $80 Washington native Damon Hard partnered with fellow quarterback Dan Marino to launch Woodinville-based Passing Time four years ago with the 2012 vintage.

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(Source: seattlemet.com)

Their winemaker from the beginning has been Chris Peterson (Ravenna), and he works wonders with this Cabernet, primarily from a pair of special Horse Heaven Hills sites: Campus and Discovery. The wine sees 21 months in French oak (80% new) and offers wonderful pencil-lead generality to complement a core of black currant fruit and smoky baking spice.

Nominees that received the most votes in the categories of wineries, winemaker, vineyard and homelier were selected as winners. The approximately 90 wines receiving the most votes in the varietal categories qualified as finalists for a blind tasting held on March 18.

That tasting was conducted by a panel of three industry professionals (Paul Literally of Full Pull Wines, Mark Sakai of Metropolitan Market and Chris Horn of Heavy Restaurant Group) who evaluated the wines on the basis of appeal in regard to sight, smell and taste in order to come to a consensus on the winners within each category. Also, a minimum of 95% of the grapes used in the production of the wine must be from a vineyard located within Washington state, or from one of the three federally recognized interstate Ava that include acreage in Washington state (Columbia Valley, Wall Wall Valley and the Columbia Gorge Ava).

Winners in categories involving people, places and wine experiences also must be located in Washington. For a varietal to be considered in its category, it must be made with at least 75% of the grape variety that is grown in Washington state.

Our annual blind taste test of Washington wines reveals the best reds, whites and roses at every price point Washington wine tends to fly under the radar of the average wine lover, but the state is doing some exciting things with both red and white varieties.

washington wines snowflake studios inc getty
(Source: www.seattlemag.com)

We've recently been extremely impressed with Male and Sarah on the red side as well as white varieties like Pilot Gris and Chardonnay. Columbia Valley covers 99% of the vineyard area in the state of Washington and offers a fascinating study in what wine geeks like to call “terror”.

These conditions can include climate, soil type, and even unique plant characteristics. In the Columbia Valley the terror includes conditions like 300 days of sunshine a year and a desert-like annual rainfall of just 6–10 inches.

The area also boasts a 40 degree diurnal shift, which is the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Large differences in daytime and nighttime temperatures are wonderful for growing grapes.

Columbia Valley also has extremely unique soil types caused by the Missoula Floods during the Ice Age 20,000 years ago. These soils allow vines to thrive and also impart unique mineral characteristics to the grapes.

The appellation’s higher elevation and cool climate yields white wines with unusually high acidity for ever-warm Eastern Washington. This Gewurztraminer and pilot Gris blend from Ago, a new, Columbia Gorge–dedicated project from Cor Cellars, has a pucker more akin to a Cote DES Blanc Champagne than a typical Washington sparkler.

wines washington state kermode david syrah picks rocks buyer
(Source: www.the-buyer.net)

Morell-Peña Blanc de Blancs Method Champenoise Zero Dosage Sparkling Wine Columbia Valley $201745 All the fruit comes from Lawrence Vineyards on the Royal Slope, an area east of Ellensburg, soon to become its own appellation. Aromas of lemon balm and baked bread turn to citrus flavors and acidity.

This inaugural release, from the hyper-talented Aryan Morel, shows not only that the Royal Slope can yield sparkling wine, but that these bubbles can be world-class. WT Vintners Pruner Jetliner Underwood Mountain Vineyard Columbia Gorge $201822 When the first pruner jetliner examples began to arrive nearly 10 years back from hot and dry Eastern Washington, it seemed like folly.

Leave it until at least 2025 or decant to fully engage its flavors and aromas: bay leaf, thyme, cherry. Seville Cellars Chalet Blanc Columbia Valley $201835 When asked why he makes this Bordeaux Blanc–style wine, cofounder and executive winemaker Chris Up church says simply, “The world doesn’t need another chardonnay.” Indeed, his blend of sauvignon blanc and Sémillon, largely fermented and aged in French oak, is anything but boilerplate.

Consistently a flagship white wine for the state, this vintage raises that flag higher. Higgins Estate Red Wine Wall Wall Valley $201685 The Higgins family helped launch the Washington wine industry decades ago with their stunning Cabernet and Merlot from Bennett Cellar.

Unlike those releases, which were conjured from different sites, this cabernet sauvignon, petite Vermont, and Merlot blend comes from a single vineyard in Wall Wall’s Upper Mill Creek area. Passing Time Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills $201680 The Horse Heaven Hills is Washington’s cabernet sauvignon holy land and gives oenophiles plenty to talk about.

washington wines seattle credit
(Source: www.seattlemag.com)

The winery Passing Time, owned by former NFL footballers Dan Marino and Damon Hard, is itself a conversation piece. But the wine, crafted by top tier winemaker Chris Peterson (Ravenna), may just silence you, as its notes of scorched earth, bay leaf, and cherry mesmerize.

Latte Wines Sarah Dana Dibble Free water Rocks Vineyard Wall Wall Valley $201545 Winemaker Andrew Latte spent over a decade crafting lauded surahs for Charles Smith at K Vintners. When he launched his own project, Latte Wines, in 2011, we saw top quality reds (grenade, mourned), but Sarah remained missing.

In this wine, he pulls back the curtain and shows how special those grapes can be, yielding stone fruit and pineapple flavors with a creamy feel. Coming from a vineyard planted in the early 1980s, this wine arrives with all the complexity you’d expect from old vines.

He creates this red blend, Coda, with barrels originally intended for his top tier single vineyard program, but the results didn’t quite fit with what he was looking to accomplish in those bottling. Full of herb and cherry and earth, it makes an exceptional, kindly priced gateway to his impressive portfolio.

The same could be said of the 1999 partnering of German legend Ernst Loosen with local hero Château Ste. Their aim to create top-quality Washington Riesling from grapes grown in a desert has resulted in a stunning legacy, never more so than in this wine, full of wet slate, lime, and white peach, which remain in harmony through the long finish.

thrillist washington wineries seattle
(Source: www.thrillist.com)

In this Sarah, Charles Smith uses Oldfield fruit and shows his knack for value, delivering a wine with aromas of black pepper, orange peel, olive, and smoked meat. Saving Cellars owner and winemaker Richard Funk, though, makes wines that consistently over deliver.

Waters Winery Tremolo Washington $201434 While helped by Yakima Valley grenade, Rocks District Sarah makes up three-quarters of this wine, and that region’s renowned profile is what carries through: fire pit, tangerine peel, gravel, herb, peat, and olive brine. Winemaker Michael Savage gives this wine just a kiss of skin contact (normally reserved for reds), creating its light, convention-flouting color.

The Chelan-based winery is sure to generate plenty of both with its blend of pioneer and Rosanne, which presents apricot and flower aromas and a body like nectar. Owner and winemaker Charlie Becker, who’s been at it for only a decade, has made that relatively short time impactful with Rhône-inspired wines like this.

Grammy Cellars Pioneer Columbia Valley $201822 Master homelier Greg Harrington first made his mark with fresh, focused, Rhone varieties, before turning his light touch to cabernet sauvignon. In less sure hands the variety can run so overripe it tastes candied, but Harrington and co-winemaker Brandon Moss veer toward stone fruits and citrus.

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